Tuesday, February 5, 2013

High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service: Inspire Timeless Loyalty in the Demanding New World of Social Commerce


I wanted to like this book, and the author seems like a nice, competent guy, but I don't feel like I got that much out of it.

There is a lot of talk about how to do great customer service, and there are some useful ideas there.  However, I felt that the economics of customer service were given short shrift.

And by economics, we're talking the classical definition of "the allocation of scarce resources".  Not everyone can be an Apple or a four star hotel: some businesses don't have those kinds of margins.  Now, granted, they can still follow a lot of the advice, but where resources are scarce, tradeoffs are involved, and in some kinds of businesses, you can't cater to the customer's every whim and still stay in business.  Yes, as he says, there are probably too many businesses where there is too much focus on "the bottom line", where in reality a bit of courtesy and going out of your way to help would be an investment that pays you back with time.  In any event, though, I felt like the book did not dedicate enough space to dealing with conflicts, and where to draw the line.  If everyone who walked into a McDonalds started ordering burgers as if it were a four star restaurant, just to make up an absurd example, something would have to give: prices or service.  You could say "ok, fine, you want a quality burger done your way, we'll up the prices", so that you can serve each person the burger of their heart's desire.  Or - and this is what would probably happen in a real McDonalds - you'd politely say "sorry sir, we don't do that".  You could say it with a smile, or make a joke about it, or even recommend another business, to leave a good impression with the customer.  But you'd still have to say "no".  If you're a social person, and genuinely in business to help people, it's pretty easy to go out of your way to help a customer.  The difficult part is defining a culture, and a few guidelines to go along with it, that has a sense of what's ok and when to say "sorry, no".

This kind of problem comes up more often in a service business.  Rational people do not go into a McDonalds expecting the best burger of their lives.  It's a product.  Not a great one, but a very standardized one where people know what they're getting.  With a lot of services, things are not so well defined.  A customer wants "a web site", and maybe has some vague notions of what that means, but may not even know what they want until they start to see it.  And then they want to tweak this, or that.  And then change something else.  If you're the guy building the web site, those changes and extra work cost you time and money, and, at some point, you're going to have to say "no, sorry, that's going to cost extra".

The other thing that I didn't get from the book was much practical advice.  I'm not sure who his audience is, but I'm just starting to build up customer service for my own small business, LiberWriter.com and trying to do it on a fairly tight budget.  Specific, concrete tips and tricks to make things work better that would save me painful learning experiences, and do so with my very limited resources, would have been very, very welcome and paid for the book many times over.

It did have some good bits, but with books like this, I'm more in the market for practical advice.  I'm not looking for a "timeless classic" that I'll keep coming back to for wisdom and philosophy, but a book that will help me bootstrap a solid customer service system and culture within my own small business.

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